New Delhi: Intelligence units operating in Kashmir have begun to break into social media groups, which they say have emerged as the biggest instruments of radicalization in the Valley.

“There are more than 500 active WhatsApp groups in the Valley and these are key instruments of radicalization. We have now identified some of these groups and have stealthily broken into them and have started tracking whenever any incriminating message is sent. We have made a slow, but steady start at slowing down radicalization," said a senior intelligence official, seeking anonymity.

The local commanders of Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad use WhatsApp to send out their message to the youth, while “the smaller mosques in some of the districts are notorious for recording clips and quickly circulating them on WhatsApp", said the official quoted above.

Tracking the administrators of these groups is difficult as the handlers operate from Rawalpindi in Pakistan, intelligence officials said, adding that they have now written to social media companies to nip such messages in the bud.

“Anyone can generate content propagating hate and violence. We have now taken active steps to write to all social media companies, primarily WhatsApp, to ensure that they take note of the keywords that we give them when these messages are generated and then a back-end intervention will stop the message from reaching its recipients," a home ministry official said, on condition of anonymity.

The move comes two years after the then state government had suspended all internet services in the Valley to pre-empt the spread of hate through social media following the gunning down of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani by security forces.

However, security forces operating in the Valley added that shutting down internet services was merely a temporary solution.

“Shutting down internet in Kashmir has never really been effective because the youth find proxy servers and other means to get onto the net. We need to start looking at individual carriers of these messages and intercept the very messages before they reach the audience," said a security official, on condition of anonymity.

The centre needs to be quicker and more aggressive in its approach, especially in view of the increasing cases of radicalisation in the region, said experts.

“The cases of radicalization are frightening and the state is failing to stop radicalisation of youth. Military level talks don’t stop the youth from joining militancy either. The central government needs to pay attention to detail, if it hopes to stop the ongoing violence," said Gul Mohammad Wani, a professor of political science at Kashmir University.

While the district magistrate (DM) of Kishtwar had issued orders last week stating that admins of WhatsApp groups were required to register with the DM’s office, other senior central government officials added, “The cyber space is a huge domain. Good legislation needs to be backed up by effective implementation of the orders. It is a good step, but we need to step up the aggression if we are to curb online radicalisation."

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